Monday, 23 February 2015

Collecting for Matanot La'Evyonim

It happens every year, everyone is really excited about what food they will be sending their friends for Mishloach Manot and what costumes they are going to wear at the Purim Party (by the way the Hassan costumes will be legendary) but most of us pay less attention to the Mitzvah of Matanot La'Evyonim.

One of the four mitzvot of Purim is Matanot La'Evyonim - gifts to the poor. These contributions to the poor allow them to celebrate Purim just like we do and helps them out with their day to day needs. The mitzvah of Matanot La'Evyonim – providing the equivalent of a Purim meal for two individuals on Purim day – was always understood by our rabbis as being even more important in priority than the monies spent on mishloach manot and personal seudotTherefore, one should spend less money on mishloach manot and more on matanot la'Evyonim. I encourage you all to be generous. 

Once again, SBH is looking to raise funds for needy families in our community. We are collecting funds for the Nathan Etkin Chesed Fund. This Chesed Fund has already helped many families with saving homes from foreclosure, paying rent when a job is lost, paying health insurance premiums, debt reduction structure planning, certified financial counseling, money for weddings and everyday needs like groceries, utilities, and helping families make Purim, Pesach and other Holidays.

How can you help? The holiday of Purim is around the corner. And as we say at SBH, “Purim, Purim lanu, Pesach en la mano” – Purim is here, Passover is near.  

This time of year brings two wonderful opportunities to help:

1. We will be accepting Purim Matanot La’Evyonim donations starting now and until March 22nd, so we can distribute those funds in a timely fashion. You can make those donations by either sending a check to the SBH office with the word “Purim” in the memo line and the checks made payable to the Nathan Etkin Chesed Fund.

I can be reached at Please note that sending in money early for Matanot La’evyonim is the best way of fulfilling this mitzva and I will be acting as your shaliach in this matter. Of course, we will also accept donations up until the day of Purim as well.

2. Rabbi Morton & Leya Moscowitz have established the “Chasdei Shmully” fund in honor of Rabbi Shmully Moscowitz, zt”l. This fund, part of the larger Seattle Chesed Fund, ensures that local families have enough food to feed their children and provides dedicated assistance for major Jewish holidays. In order to help financially struggling families with the significant costs of Passover, congregants are encouraged to give to this fund specifically. Donations for Pesach should be mailed to the SBH office by April 8th, so we can make our distributions. Please write “Chasdei Shmully Matzah Fund” in the memo of your check.

Please note all checks whether for Purim or for Pesach need to be made out to The Nathan Etkin Chesed Fund and NOT to SBH.

The Chesed Fund functions with total respect for the person in need, and all requests are handled with dignity and confidentiality. It partners with Jewish Family Services when the need becomes more long-term.  A dollar donated is a dollar distributed. The Chesed Fund is a registered 501(c)3 organization, and all gifts are tax deductible.   

Monday, 9 February 2015

Mikveh - Why is it so important to support it?

Why should I support the mikveh?

Having a mikveh in the Jewish community is a fundamental prerequisite that is so essential that it even takes priority over building a synagogue. However, since most people don't talk about the mikveh in the same terms as schools and synagogues its importance gets minimized. In this short blog I'd like to draw your attention to the significance and relevance of having a mikveh and also how you can support the Seattle Mikveh located in Seward Park. 

Ritual immersion is an essential part of Jewish law and is as significant as observing Shabbat and eating Kosher food. Immersion in a mikveh is an act required by Jewish law: for converts to Judaism, for brides, for women observing niddah and after childbirth. We also immerse new utensils used for eating and cooking foods but that is done in a separate mikveh - called a mikveh keilim.

I would write in length about debunking the myths about mikvaot, or why women should make it a priority to go, but there are wonderful websites that we all can read which have this information. Instead I will recommend just a couple of links from the website The first is a video clip on the centrality of the mikveh. Please click here for the link. The second link is on a number of great articles about mikvaot, click here to read more

Finally, our Seattle Mikveh housed in the BCMH compound is having its annual fundraiser on February 21st. I would encourage women to attend the event as well as community organizations to financially support our mikveh. There are constant costs with a mikveh to keep it in line with halakha and providing women with the opportunity to immerse privately and with dignity in the 21st Century following in the footsteps of our mothers for over 3000 years. 

Checks should be made payable to Seattle Mikvah Association and sent to BCMH or to Sharon Adatto.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Tu Bishvat - Fixing the Original Sin

Being a rabbi, I don't get to hear many classes or talks given by speakers. But at SBH we have a learning Shabbat every four to six weeks. At these learning Shabbatot, different rabbis, educators and congregants give a twenty minute class. This past Shabbat I had the pleasure of listening to my wife's presentation on the "Roots of Tu Bishvat". This blog is based on her shiur. Click here to read the source material

Tu Bishvat is first mentioned in the first mishna in Masekhet Rosh Hashana. The topic of the mishna is the different New Years in our calendar. The date for the New Year for trees is an argument between Bet Shammai (1st of Shevat) and Bet Hillel (15th of Shevat). We hold with Bet Hillel and the New Year for trees is the 15th of Shevat. This date is significant in agricultural terms but for those of us who are not farmers there is very little relevance. The mishna and the Talmud make no reference to this being a festive day or a day for eating fruits and wine with friends and family so where does that come from?

Although the English translation of the phrase ראש השנה לאילן is New Year for the trees. The truth is that אילן is in the singular. So what tree is the mishna referring to? According to the Kabbalists there is a deep connection between Tu Bishvat and the tree in the Garden of Eden - עץ הדעת טוב ורע - the tree of knowledge. This was the one tree that God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat from. But as we all know, this was the tree that they couldn't resist.

It is a point of discussion in the Talmud (Masekhet Berakhot 40a) of what type of fruit the tree was. You are all thinking an apple tree? Well not exactly. The Talmud posits three possibilities.

"Rabbi Meir holds that the tree of which Adam ate was the vine, since the thing that most causes wailing to a man is wine, as it says, And he drank of the wine and was drunken. Rabbi Nehemiah says it was the fig tree, so that they repaired their misdeed with the instrument of it, as it says, 'And they sewed fig leaves together'. Rabbi Yehuda says it was wheat, since a child does not know how to call ‘father’ and ‘mother’ until it has had a taste of grain."

The Midrash (Bereshit Rabbi 15:7) adds "Rabbi Abba of Acco said that the fruit referred to the etrog as the verse states ‘and the woman saw that the tree was good’. Go forth and see, what tree is it whose wood can be eaten just like its fruit, and you find none but the etrog" So where does the apple idea come from? The etrog was known in Ancient Greek as the golden apple.

There is a lot more to Tu Bishvat than just eating fruit and wine. The 16th Century Kabbalists under the Arizal established the Seder Tu Bishvat with a particular order and sequence. The idea being that by eating these particular foods we are repairing the original sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge. We eat from the seven species connected to the Land of Israel - wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. Firstly to keep us connected to Israel and second to repair the sin of Adam and Eve who may have eaten from one of these fruits. Some also have the custom to eat etrog jam on Tu Bishvat too.

Have a wonderful and meaningful Tu Bishvat!